1.1 Germ

# 1625 8 - 11 mins.

Father emerged from the forest with his haul slung over one shoulder. The other carried a bow, and a quiver with arrows rested in the middle. He wore only worn leather pants, with his chest bare. Father walked up to our camp, still careful not to make noise as his bare feet stepped on the rich dirt. His rough, dark skin resembled the brown bark of the trees, making him hard to track as he wove through them.

He reached the camp and sat on a large rock across from me. He removed the weight from his shoulders and I now saw what it was: A large boar with a single small arrow wound in its side. He kneeled down next to it, touched the and drew a bloody line on his forehead and cheeks. Then he leaned his head on the animal and said, “Thank you for your sacrifice. May you rest in peace.” He pulled a crude dagger from the waist of his pants and began skinning the animal.

I sat at the fire and prodded it with a small stick.

”How was the hunt?" I asked.

"Not too challenging today. I have been tracking this boar for about a week. I already knew where to find him," my father said.

"Thank you, Father. Boar is my favorite!" I smiled.

"Kaia, we owe it to the boar to respect him, even in death."

I looked back down at the fire. "Sorry, Father."

"But they are tasty," he said. I looked up to find a small smirk on his face and a smile returned to mine as well.

Mother wasn't far off, gathering more firewood. When she saw that Father had returned, Mother headed back with a bundle of sticks in her arms. She too wore simple clothes; old worn leather made a skirt and top, while the rest was left bare. Her earthen brown skin resembled that of Father. It was rough like the trees but slightly lighter in shade. Her hair was dense, with dreads like vines, and she walked deliberately like she knew who she was. It was something that I had never seen the Humans pull off.

Mother placed her armful of branches in the usual spot, a small collection of leafy plants to protect it from the rain, took a few sticks with her and walked over and sat on a stone next to me. "Well done," she said to Father. Mother placed the sticks on the fire and then looked at me. "Kaia, why don't you show your father what you learned today?"

I nodded, focusing on the ground in front of me. A small portion of energy ran through me and left into the ground. Mother said the trick wasn't that I needed to use a lot of it, just that I needed to shape it correctly. A green glow formed on the ground revealing small seedling peeking through. I carefully pulled my hand up, and the plant followed, growing in size and color. Leaves formed, flowers bloomed, and then went limp. When I was done, a small plant stood on the ground with three bright red berries hanging from it. I picked one off and handed it to Father.

"Teaberries!" he said, "I love teaberries!" acting more like a child than I had about the boar. He grabbed the berry and popped it into his mouth, cherishing the taste. While still chewing he said, "Well, I am happy to see you are finally teaching her something useful." He gave Mother a playful look and she laughed in response.

Father finished skinning and gutting the boar, impaled it on a wooden stake, and hung it over the fire. When he stood up from the fire to clean his hands at a nearby stream, he froze in place instead, wide-eyed.

A voice broke through the silence. "Hello there."

Shocked to hear someone other than my parents, I poked my head up to see past the bushes that surrounded our camp to see the source. A man, Human, with blond hair cut short on the side and left long on top. He stood in a clearing with hands on hips. His pale skin stood out against the dark wood and his hairy chin cocked upward. He wore a red shirt that was swallowed up by a series of crisscrossing belts on his waist and chest, each holding a series of vials containing a tarish liquid. My viewing was cut short by Father shoving my head behind his back.

"The polite response would be to say 'Hello', maybe a 'How do you do?', but you savages were never much for manners, huh?" the man taunted.

He went on. "No response, huh? Well, you all must have been squatting in our woods for a long time. Heck, I didn't even think any of you Treeks were left, but here we are. And this whole time, you have been, what, hiding in our forests and eating our game? Leeching off of our land? That doesn't sound fair now, does it?"

Other Humans spread out from behind the one with the belts and emerging from behind trees. A few of them chuckled along with belt-man's question.

"We mean you no harm. Let us leave and you'll never see us again." Father said.

"Hah. That's what I'm afraid of. But, you see, bringing you in to pay for your crimes is the right thing to do. I'd get a nice ransom too. So why don't you just come with me, and we'll get this all squared away," said the man.

More Humans were now visible. I counted at least eight as they formed a circle around us.

Father looked at Mother. My parents stepped in front of me, hiding me from the threat. Father looked back toward the man. "Alright, just don't hurt us." He bent down as if he was going to pick me up. He looked at me with damp eyes and gave a subtle nod with a strange look on his face. Was it worry? Remorse? Was he saying goodbye? In an instant, instead of picking me up, he grabbed his bow with one hand, and an arrow with the other. By the time he stood back up with an arrow knocked, Mother had already raised a thicket of thorns, entrapping the man with the belts. All at once, screams from the Humans cried out. Father released his arrow, hitting an archer in the shoulder. Mother turned to me.

"Run, Kaia!" she said. "We'll come find you, but you need to run!"

I was shocked, stuck in place, not knowing what was happening. What would happen to our family? Was there any going back to the way things were? My legs shook as I processed the fear building up inside of me. We had run from the Humans for so long. What would happen if they caught us? What would they do to mother and father? To me?

Mother turned to one of the charging Humans and with a tree branch, slapped his sword from his grasp. Blasts of fire shot from the thicket of vines where the man was trapped, and arrows whizzed by us.

"Run, Kaia!" she said again, and this time I did.

I ran away from the flaming thicket of thorns toward the only gap in the circle of Humans.

I pushed through the bushes at the edge of camp. As I did, two Humans ran at me. A woman yelled as she charged with a battleaxe, her tight braid slapping against her back. A short man supported her from the side, holding a growing ball of fire.

The woman was closer, so I flicked my hands, snagging her foot with a root. She fell in a heap, skidding to a halt as I jumped over her.

I heard an arrow impact flesh the camp and looked back to see Father groaning, the arrow sticking out of his thigh. He pushed himself up onto one leg and began lacing another arrow. "Father!" I yelled as I slowed down.

Rapid footsteps approached. I drew my gaze back to the Human wielding the fireball. It had grown to raging fireball the size of a coconut. He joined both hands together and sent a torrent of fire barrelling at me. I tried to dodge, but the distraction cost me. It blasted my arm with a surge of searing pain. The pain overtook me and I fell to the ground.

My arm throbbed. I went to touch it, but a hand slammed against the back of my head, pressing my face into the dirt. It clenched, grabbing a fist full of hair, and then lifted me off the ground. My scalp screamed with enough pain to take my mind off of the burn as the man continued to pull me higher. He looked me in the eyes and spoke with yellowed teeth and foul breath. "Even their children are ugly," he said, talking through me.

I heard an arrow impact behind me and a feminine groan of pain. A faint green glow appeared in the tree above us and a vine shot down. It wrapped around the man's neck. He let go of me in favor of clawing at the vine noose that was pulling him upward, and then disappeared into the treetops.

I stared up at the tree, but pain interrupted my shock. My arm throbbed. I stared at it; Flesh gooey with blood. Then I heard my mother's voice.

"Kaia, run!" I looked at my mom, my face streaming with tears. Humans surrounded them, and the campfire roared with fire magic. "Run!" She said one final time, and I did.

I ran.

It's all I had ever known.

Tags: Kaia